I have the feeling that László Sólyom with his New Year's Message this year will not please those who are supporters of the current government. The president again seemed to put all the blame on the socialists and neglected to ask for cooperation and solidarity from the opposition. On the other hand, Fidesz is surely rejoicing because they can find in his speech the favorite political slogans of the party I personally consider annoying clichés. Among these the most irritating is "Hungary used to be in the lead and now it is among those bringing up the rear [sereghajtó]." That is usually mentioned either in connection with the neighboring countries or sometimes in the context of Europe as a whole. That means that once upon a time, especially between 1998 and 2002, everything was peachy pie but since then the socialist-liberal government has ruined it all. Hungary has become the poorest, the slowest developing country whose recovery will be very slow if at all possible. Orbán at one point talked about a decline that is setting the country back twenty years. Yesterday an Internet paper described 2008 as the year of total economic collapse in Hungary! Either they or I don't know the meaning of economic collapse. I suspect it's not me.
This kind of economic doom seems to be spreading in the media and the Hungarian public is prone to unwarranted pessimism anyway. President Sólyom's New Year's Message didn't help the situation. Surely, we all know that next year will be even more difficult than 2008 was, but the Hungarian situation is nowhere as bad yet as, for example, that in the United States. Up to this point a few thousand people have been laid off and most people didn't restrain their Christmas spending. And yes, often the purchases were made on credit. And yes, this is bad. And yes, it is perhaps even the duty of the president to warn people. But it does make a difference how he does it. Creating panic, spreading gloom and doom under the present circumstances is counterproductive. That is one of the problems with this speech. The other is that Sólyom's description of Hungary's current situation is not based on facts. For example, it is not true, at least not at the moment, that the "worldwide financial crisis and the economic recession especially affect Hungary negatively." Why? "Because the crisis found the country already in a weakened state." And what is the remedy? "The way out of this crisis, the urgent introduction of basic changes, is the responsibility of the government." Again, the bad reflexes of the Kádár regime: the government will take care of everything.
After this Sólyom turns away from the government and talks to "people of good will." He tells them that in the final analysis they are the ones who elect the politicians and thus the government and urges them "to express their opinions, put pressure on the politicians, and check the activities of their representatives." While other statesmen in situations like this talk about solidarity, lending a helping hand to others in trouble, Sólyom tells his people that "in times like one can rely only on oneself, one's family and friends." "Independence of thought" is very important in order to avoid being crushed by the crisis. Independence of thought also means "self-esteem." And now comes a sentence that I have difficulty interpreting: "In these very hard times it is necesary to be self-assertive and we as people of responsibility must turn down any attempt to be used either politically or economically." Who wants to use the people for economic or political purposes? It is so vague. Does he mean either side of the political spectrum or both? The trade unions? Who knows?
The whole speech seems to me hastily thrown together. A few sentences after he says that we can rely only on ourselves and our families he changes his tune. Suddenly we are told that actually "independence cannot be separated from solidarity." (I'm not sure at all how these two concepts are linked, but perhaps there is some connection I am unable to see.) Suddenly, he discovers solidarity "beyond the direct assistance of friends and family." He calls on the churches that, by the way, haven't done much for example for the most miserable group of people in Hungary, the Gypsies, but perhaps in this crisis they will get wings.
Finally, he wished "hope and much strength to the people of Hungary and all Hungarians!" And he closed his message with something that has already raised some eyebrows in Hungary. He wanted to share a thought that keeps him occupied lately: "Honesty in the long run pays!" Surely, that has nothing to do with 2009, the financial crisis, and how to cope with it. In my opinion László Sólyom here is talking about the allaged dishonesty of Ferenc Gyurcsány and the government. The Hungarian president according to the constitution is supposed to symbolize the unity of the nation and therefore taking sides in politics is not one of his prerogatives. The other reason for the raised eyebrows is the not so honest election of Sólyom to his current position. The Hungarian constitution provides three opportunities for a person to be elevated to the position by parliament. At the first two occasions the candidate needs two-thirds of the votes. By the third time 50% plus 1 vote will suffice. Sólyom was elected only in the third round but even the 50% plus 1 vote was not a certainty. Therefore Fidesz "checked" the allegedly secret votes of their members. In one case, János Áder, then the leader of the Fidesz caucus, actually made one person change his vote. Thus Sólyom's election was tainted and, according to his critics, if he were "an honest man" he wouldn't have accepted the post under the circumstances. In any case, I think that Sólyom's closing sentence was most unfortunate.